How I listen to music

Ian Leslie writes to me:

I’m wondering, have you ever done a post about how you listen to music? Hours per week, times of day, technologies, degree of multi-tasking, etc…and how you choose what to listen to at any given moment. I’d be interested.

I go to plenty of concerts, but that is for another post.  And I’ve already written about satellite radio.  As for home, I like to listen to music most of the time, noting that if I am writing a) the music doesn’t bother me, and b) I don’t necessarily hear that much of the music.  A few more specific points:

1. I don’t like to listen to “rock music” (broadly construed) in the morning.

2. I won’t listen to Mahler, Bruckner, or Brahms in the morning.  They are evening music.

3. Renaissance music is best either in the morning or the evening.

4. I don’t listen to much jazz at home any more, though I am no less keen to see a good jazz concert live.  Having already spent a lot of time with the great classics, at current margins I am disillusioned with most “jazz as recorded music.”

4b. The same is true of most “world music,” if you will excuse the poorly chosen label.  I do subscribe to Songlines, a world music magazine.  I buy some of the recommendations on CD, but try out many more on YouTube or Spotify.  That is my primary use of those services, at least for music.  That is one case where I am sampling to see if I run across new sounds.

5. I don’t like earbuds and never use them.

6. Bach gets the most listening time.

7. For a classical piece I really like, I might own five or more recorded versions, occasionally running up to a dozen.  Listening to a poor or even so-so recording of a very good piece is to me painful and to be avoided.

8. Contemporary classical music — which many people hate — gets plenty of listening time.  Though not when Natasha is home.  Some of those recordings, such as Helmut Lachenmann string quartets, seem to create problems for Spinoza, noting that he is rarely not at home.  Perhaps they will be shelved for a few years.

9. I buy new classical music releases recommended by Fanfare, and occasionally from the NYT or Gramophone or elsewhere.  As for “popular music” (a bad term), mostly I wait until December and then buy CDs extensively from various “best of the year” lists.  I do some Spotify sampling then too, again from those lists.

10. The main stock of recorded music is kept in the basement. There is a separate shelf upstairs for what I am listening to actively at the moment.  That shelf might have 200 or so CDs, with some of them scattered on tables, and with some LPs nearby as well.

11. Periodically I go down into the basement and choose which discs will be “re-promoted” to the active shelf upstairs.  And if I am done listening to a disc, it goes down to the basement, with some chance of being re-promoted back to upstairs later.

12. If I don’t like a disc, I throw it out, as space constraints have become too binding.  (It is cruel to give it away, and no one wants it anyway.)  As time passes, I am throwing out more discs.  For instance, I love Cuban music but I don’t lilsten to it on disc any more.

Overall, I view this system as optimized for getting to know a core repertoire.  It is not optimized for browsing or random discovery.  I feel I have a lot of discovery in my musical life, but it comes from reading and information inflow — both extensive — not from listening per se.

And to be clear, I am not suggesting that these methods are optimal for anyone else.


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